Authors: S. Walden
“Mom might know,” Regan offered playfully.
“Mom’s at ballet with Caroline,” her dad replied.
And then the lie forced its way out. It disgusted her the entire time the words slipped from her lips. She lied to protect Jeremy, but she didn’t yet understand why.
“I . . . I was napping. I think maybe I had a nightmare and didn’t realize it. I woke up panicking. My arms went numb. I couldn’t breathe. That’s why I was freaking out.”
He bought it.
“That’s it with the magnesium.”
“You’re not taking that crap anymore,” Mr. Walters said.
“Dad, the magnesium did not give me nightmares.”
“I’ve read stuff. Forums online. A lot of people talked about having really weird dreams after starting a magnesium regiment.”
“That’s bogus,” Regan replied.
“I’ll show you,” her dad insisted.
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Dad.”
“Listen, I can’t break down your door every time you have a nightmare,” Mr. Walters said.
“Why was your door locked, anyway? What happened to our house rules?”
“I . . . I just needed some privacy.” She avoided her father’s eyes.
“Isn’t that why we close doors in the first place? We need locks now, too?”
“I was afraid someone might walk in without knocking.”
“To discover what?”
“Girl stuff, Dad. Jeez.”
Mr. Walters cleared his throat. “I don’t wanna know.”
“Good, because I wasn’t going to share.”
He squeezed her then helped her to her feet.
“Stop locking your door,” he said, and kissed her forehead.
Regan scowled, then mumbled, “What door?”
Mr. Walters ignored her and looked around the bathroom. It was clear he wasn’t altogether certain of his next move.
“Ice cream?” he asked finally.
“Uh, yes?” Regan replied.
Mr. Walters furrowed his brows. “I don’t know what that means, but I’ll make you a bowl.”
It was ludicrous. She just read one boy’s plans to shoot up her school, had a massive panic attack, and decided the best way to handle the information was to share Moose Tracks with her dad.
She ate to gorge herself. If she could fill to the brim with ice cream, then there could be no room for anything else. No room for murderous revelations. No room for a kid who threatened to destroy her life. No room for responsibility. She ate and ate, holding out hope that she’d get what she wanted. But hope rejected her wish and gave her a stomachache instead.
Why does the world look at vigilantes in the same way they view evil people? They’re not. The vigilantes are the heroes, for Christ’s sake! They’re your Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. They’re your protectors. Yet society wants to argue about how they have no right to keep the public safe. It’s not up to them. It’s up to the justice system, they cry. News flash: the justice system doesn’t work. Not always, anyway. I mean, what are we supposed to do? Let these scumbags grow up to steal, rape, and kill? If you see a bad seed, don’t you yank it when it’s young—when it’s barely crested the soil? You don’t wait until it matures, hoping against hope that it’ll transform into a rose. You know very well what will happen: it’ll turn into a weed to choke out all the pretty flowers. Is that what you want, asshole?
Yeah. I didn’t think so.
She was the only girl in school who could juggle a hacky sack. He found that peculiar—that she pranced onto the field dolled up like a runway model and played soccer better than any of the boys. A bit sexist, but then he was a typical young guy who believed sports were better executed by other typical young guys. This particular afternoon on the school’s soccer field was the first he really noticed her—that monotonous
slap slap slap!
of the footbag against the tops of her cleats. She was alone. Summer practice was over—just one precious week left until the season started—but she stayed for more training. His eyes were glued to her feet.
Purple cleats. He realized he was a cleat chaser, and laughed. She looked up, the hacky sack nestled in the crook of her foot.
“Something funny?” she snapped, standing on one foot with her hands on her hips.
“No,” Brandon replied.
“Then why are you laughing at me?” Regan asked.
“I wasn’t laughing at you.” He walked toward her.
“Then what were you laughing at?” she pressed.
He paused, standing face-to-face with her.
“You’re really good.”
She frowned, not understanding.
“Soooo, you’re laughing at me because I’m good?”
He nodded. “Why aren’t you playing on the guys’ team?”
Her lips spread into a knowing smile.
“Oh, I see. You were laughing because you just couldn’t understand how a girl could be so much better at soccer than your lame ass friends.”
He burst out laughing.
“News flash, buddy. I’m taking this skill to college—” She tossed the hacky sack to Brandon, and he punched it back. “—on a full scholarship. Girl power. Holla.”
They volleyed while they chatted.
“I know you will, Regan. You’re cocky as hell, so I know you’ll get what you want,” Brandon said.
“I’m not cocky. I’m confident,” she countered.
“I thought that was the same thing,” he replied.
“Not even close.”
“So where did this skill come from, anyway? Why didn’t I see it in middle school?”
“I hid it. Plus, I wasn’t interested in organized sports. For a while I felt they were too fascist.”
“Is that right? You felt they were too fascist?” Brandon teased. “Pretty intense for a seventh grader.”
“I’m highly intelligent,” Regan replied.
“Oh, that’s right. You were too busy with your dork club,” Brandon said.
“Shut up. Our club was awesome.”
Regan caught the sack on her toe and punched it over Brandon’s head. Somehow, despite his mediocre skills, he was able to catch it in time to pop it back to her.
“I’m just jealous because you never invited me,” he confessed.
“It was a club for smart people,” she reminded him.
He roared with laughter, dropping the footbag.
“Start over,” she said, and he took it as a good sign. She didn’t want him to leave quite yet.
“You notice anything different about me?” he asked, tossing her the hacky sack once more.
She hesitated, and he knew she was debating if she should say it out loud.
“It’s okay. You can say it,” he encouraged.
“You lost a ton of weight,” she said, looking him up and down.
“I grew six inches over the summer,” he replied. “And decided to start getting in shape.”
She whistled low. “That’s a decent way to start high school.”
“I think so,” he said.
“Did you work on anything else over the summer?”
He furrowed his brows. “Like what?”
“Like your asshole personality?”
He chuckled. “Gosh, you just say it, huh?”
“No point in beating around the bush.”
He dropped the footbag again. This time he didn’t retrieve it. He let it lay on the grass—take a much-needed break.
“I picked on people because I was insecure,” he said softly. “You know, with my weight and stuff.”
“I’m not that guy anymore,” he went on. “I’ve grown up.”
“There’s not that much difference between thirteen and fourteen,” she said, unconvinced.
“There is for me,” he insisted. He looked straight at her face.
“Okay, Brandon. I sort of believe you,” she replied, picking up her hacky sack and gym bag. She slung the bag over her shoulder, signaling the end of their conversation.
But he wasn’t ready to end it, and she sensed that. He gave her a really good once-over, taking in her fourteen-year-old hair, lips, breasts, legs. Cleats. He smiled.
“Wanna know what I was laughing about?”
“Please share,” she said.
“I was looking at your cleats,” he said, pointing to her feet.
“Oh, whoops,” she replied, looking down.
She plopped on the ground and switched out her shoes.
“Thanks. These are brand new. If Mom saw me walking in with them on, she’d have a fit.”
He nodded. “So anyway, I was looking at your cleats, and I thought, wow, I’m a cleat chaser.” He paused, waiting for her reaction to his not-so-subtle proclamation of love. Or lust. Perhaps lust right now.
“Girls are cleat chasers,” Regan said, distracted, lacing her shoe.
Brandon sighed. “I know. That’s what made it funny. That I thought to myself, hey, I’m a guy, but I’m a cleat chaser.”
“Who are you chasing after?” she asked, looking up.
He shook his head. “God, Regan! You’re so oblivious! You! I’m chasing you!”
She froze, flushed with flattery.
“Like role reversal over here. You’re the athlete, and I’m going after you. See why that’s funny?”
She hopped up. “You’re so sexist.”
“I’m not. I swear. But come on. Can’t you see the humor in it?”
She considered him. “I guess.”
“Well, is that all you’re gonna say? I just confessed to liking you.”
“But why? You never showed interest before,” she said.
“Because before, I was an idiot.”
“Don’t say it,” he warned playfully.
They stood avoiding each other’s eyes, waiting for the other to speak.
“You were a really cruel kid,” she said softly.
“I know. But I’m not that guy anymore, Regan. I swear. How about this: Let me show you that I’m not that guy,” he offered.
“Hang out with me.”
“Hang out with you?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Umm . . .”
“Well, I guess so,” she said finally.
He lit up. “You won’t regret it. I swear . . .”
“Regan!” the secretary shouted.
She jerked her face up, and in an instant, the memory faded. “Huh? Wha—?”
“You’ve been standing there staring at me for ten minutes! What do you need?” Pam demanded.
Regan clutched the red notebook against her chest. She was all ready to turn it in, report what she’d learned from those dark pages, but then her mind yanked her back to the summer before ninth grade.
Brandon. He said all the right things. He halfway convinced her he’d changed. He showed her all during that school year until she fully believed him. She was unaware of the abuse he doled out in secret. She had no idea what he did or said when she wasn’t around him. He tricked her. He promised he was a good person, but he wasn’t. At least, there wasn’t much goodness there.
So what about Jeremy? She realized she could have read him all wrong. Yeah, she knew what those pages said, but her righteous side almost justified it. And anyway, she’d gotten it wrong before. What made her think she wasn’t wrong this time?
“I’m not good at reading people,” she said. “I think.”
Pam raised her eyebrow. “Okay. Well, are you able to read my facial expression right now?”
Regan stared blandly. “You want me out of here because you have a lot of work to do?”
“See? You’re not as bad as you think,” Pam said.
Regan hesitated, pulling the notebook away from her chest and looking down at it.
“So, Regan, tell me what you need so that I can get back to these phones.”
“Umm . . .”
A parent walked in, and Pam greeted her. Regan stood to the side, weighing her heavy options. Neither seemed fair. Neither seemed right. It was the first time she saw the world in hues of gray. Before, everything was black and white. Right and wrong. Easy.
“When you figure it out, you come see me,” Pam said quietly.
Regan jumped, unaware that the secretary had left her post to come stand beside her. Pam placed her hand on Regan’s back and steered her gently out of the office.
Regan stood in the doorway, clutching the notebook, staring right at Jeremy. His eyes went wide as they fastened onto his journal cradled protectively against her chest. They moved from the notebook to her face, narrowing slightly, like he was already devising the plan for her ruin.
A wave of students blocked her view, and his eyes disappeared. When the hall cleared, she saw him again. He hadn’t moved. He hadn’t stopped staring. But this time his eyes changed. He glared at her with suppressed anger.
He made no move toward her. She was convinced he could see her heart thumping madly inside her chest. Another string of students. Out of sight. Back again. Still staring her down. He was thinking of all the ways he planned to dismember her. She was convinced of it. She wanted to run back into the office, but her feet were stuck in the mud of indecisiveness.
“It’s the worst quality ever!” she screamed at Casey one day. “Make a decision! Smart people are decision-makers!”
Make the decision, Regan. Pick up your feet and run.
They wouldn’t listen.
Pick up your feet and run!
she screamed inside.
Do you wanna die today?
The thought was absurd. Or was it? She knew everything: the guns, the targets, the plan in every small detail. It wasn’t crazy to think she’d become a part of that plan now. And she injected herself! He didn’t tell her. He didn’t force her to read his words. She made the terrible decision on her own—the decision to know. “Knowledge is power”—the line kept mocking her. She had no power. She held his notebook in her hands—all the knowledge of his murderous plot—but held no power over him. She was terrified of him instead.
Another large crowd obstructed her view. When it cleared, he was gone. She panicked, whipping her head in every direction. He would pop up out of nowhere like the villain does in a horror movie and slice her head off. He wouldn’t even give her a chance to run. Not make it a game. Some of them like the chase, but he wouldn’t be one of them. Just
“I want my head, I want my head, I want my head, I want my head,” she whispered frantically, tears stinging her eyes.
She bolted to her locker. Brandon was there.
“Hey,” he said, a note of concern in his voice. “You okay?” He leaned down and kissed the top of her head.
“You don’t look okay,” he said, tilting her chin up. He frowned. “You’re crying. What’s wrong?”
“I, uh . . . just a really bad headache,” she said.
He grew more concerned. He believed her. She suffered every now and again from migraines.
“Regan, you need to go to the nurse now,” Brandon replied. “What if it gets worse?”
He sat with her for hours several months back when she developed a migraine. She was laid out on the living room floor after a few bouts of vomiting, and he was crazy with worry. Her parents were gone, and he didn’t know how to help her. The medicine proved ineffective, so he convinced himself it wasn’t a migraine at all but rather an aneurysm.
He called an ambulance. He remembered the E.M.T.’s careless remark as he checked Regan’s vitals—“This’ll cost you”—and wanted to beat his face in.
“I’m totally fine,” Regan said. “I promise. I already took something for it.”